Pekka Rinne was without a doubt the #1 reason the Nashville Predators played as well as they did in 2011-12. And he figures so prominently in the organization’s long-term plans that GM David Poile signed Rinne to a 7-year, $49-million contract last year.
Nashville’s super-goalie has been biding his time during the lockout with HC Dinamo Minsk in the Kontinental Hockey League. If the lockout ends in time to have a 2012-13 season, the Predators might be without Rinne’s service. As reported on Twitter by Clare Austin (@PredsNBolts) this afternoon, Dinamo is saying that Rinne is injured:
The original tweet in Russian says that Rinne has injured his groin and that he’s on the way to Finland to see his personal physiotherapist, and Dinamo later replied that it’s not yet known how bad the injury is.
If the lockout does in fact end in time for the league to start playing in January, Nashville will find itself in a very different position than it expected. Pekka Rinne carried the team on his back during several stretches of the 2011-12 season. It was a year of career highs for Rinne, who played in 73 games while notching career highs in wins (43), shots against (2,153), saves (1,987).
Anders Lindback, last year’s backup to Rinne, was traded to Tampa Bay over the summer. That means Rinne’s immediate replacement would be Chris Mason, the journeyman goalie who resigned with Nashville during the offseason. Mason spent parts of six seasons with the Predators before splitting the last four years between St. Louis and Atlanta/Winnipeg.
To back up Mason, the Preds would probably call up Jeremy Smith, currently in his fourth season playing for the Milwaukee Admirals. Smith posted a solid 2011-12 campaign that saw him post a 2.17 GAA and 0.922 save percentage, but he’s down in both categories (2.62 and 0.899, respectively) for 2012-13. Any move of Smith to Nashville would mean a starting job in Milwaukee for first-year player Magnus Hellberg, who the Predators drafted last summer.
Without Pekka Rinne the Predators can manage. But they likely won’t be able to thrive, especially with a young defensive corps in front of his replacement. Here’s hoping we get good news out of Belarus soon saying Pekka’s injury isn’t too much to worry about.